Honouring Jody Watley in celebration of her January 30th birthday, we revisit a 2009 audio interview conducted by SoulMusic.com founder David Nathan, who first interviewed Jody as part of the group Shalamar along with a feature David wrote on Jody at the time…

JODY WATLEY:  Entrepreneur, Innovator, Pioneer…

She’s an innovative music maker, a style-forging pioneer: since the mid-90s, Grammy-winning multi-talented Jody Watley has led the way as an entrepreneur working in the independent music world as one of the few already-established female best-selling artists to produce, create and own her recordings.  

The CEO/President of her own Avitone Recordings (whose mission is “fueling quality music since 1995”) notes, “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” Jody reveals. “From an early age, I wanted to have my own business and I’ve exercised creative control since I began my solo career in the ’80s.  With the change in the music industry atmosphere in the ‘90s and the corporate takeovers that were taking place, I saw that the future progression of the business was going to be one where the independent artist could flourish.“

With an amazing 32 Top Ten Singles and 13 No. 1 Singles in the R&B, pop and dance music genres over the past three decades  – including such classics as “Looking For A New Love,” “Don’t You Want Me” and her groundbreaking collaboration with Eric B and Rakim on “Friends” – Jody has consistently broken new ground in music, video and fashion:  her 2006 album “The Makeover” benefited from a  an exclusive collaboration  with the Virgin Megastore Music Chain that debuted as the No 1 nationwide store best-seller and No. 3 track on iTunes Electronic Chart.

The Chicago-born internationally-known entertainer says that Prince’s moves as an independent artist proved a major inspiration for her choice to create Avitone and begin releasing albums on her own label. “After Prince did “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” through his NPG partnership, I set up a joint venture with Bellmark (who were distributing Prince’s project) for my first independent album, “Affection.”  I started learning new ways to market my music…”     

In 1996, Jody took a slight detour from the journey as an indie artist with a brief tenure with Atlantic Records (resulting in the Top 40 dance/R&B hit “Off The Hook”) but returned in full force in 2000 with “Saturday Night Experience,” an experimental electronic album released only in Japan (where Jody has maintained a constant presence going back to the early ‘80s). 

After licensing some of her music to renowned tastemaking company Giant Step and working with dance music writer/producers Masters At Work, Jody released “Midnight Lounge” also in Japan, making it available for U.S. release through Shanachie Records, with the key dance cut “Photographs” released in the U.K. on Chillifunk.  “One of the things that people haven’t realized is that  – I’ve been involved with creating, producing and writing songs for all my solo work since the early ‘80s,” says Jody, whose original ingenious, stylish videos raised the standards for female artists around the globe after she launched her solo career in 1986 following six years as an original member of chartmaking trio Shalamar. 

Known for combining beauty and style as integral aspects of her career as a recording artist and dynamic live performer, Jody’s list of accomplishments and achievements is indeed impressive: she’s received nominations for the MTV VMAs, NAACP Image Awards and American Music Awards. She’s been featured in Vogue, Italian Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone  and has been named one of America’s Most Beautiful People by People Magazine. The first black woman to appear on a Japanese fashion magazine cover (specifically Japan’s most elite, Spur), Jody has perfomed by special invitation at The White House, participated in in Bob Geldof’s historic “Do They Know It’s Christmas” recording session and video, Force of Nature’s Tsunami Relief in Malaysia as well as working on one of the first global HIV/AIDS awareness projects, “Red Hot and Blue” for which she performed the Cole Porter jazz classic “After You Who”.  Watley continues to work with charities promoting tolerance prevention and care for those living with HIV and AIDS.

Beyonce Knowles and Destiny’s Child recorded one of Jody’s compositions “Sweet Sixteen” on their best-selling “Writings on The Wall’ album and Jody’s special guest appearances have included work with Roy Ayers, 4Hero, Rahsaan Patterson and George Michael. An update of the Shalamar hit “For The Lover In You” by Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds featured Jody and LL Cool J and in 2009, Jody can be heard on the Time Life CD, “Songs 4 Worship Soul” singing her version of the Stevie Wonder classic, “Heaven Help Us All.”

Jody – who has six Top 10 pop hits, fifteen  Top 40 R&B and thirteen major dance hits to her credit – is looking to expand her reach as a global best-selling independent recording artist: “One of the most important aspects of my career has been cultivating my diverse and eclectic audience.  I have 80’s babies, older fans from my Shalamar era and a new  growing and younger fan base because of my club and electronic music, add to that mix neo-soul lovers from albums I did like “Intimacy” and “Affairs Of The Heart.  I’ve also been fortunate to always have a loyal gay audience. In essence, I have a real melting pot of supporters!  I’d rather have the kind of hardcore base who appreciates what I do than be about trends and fads.  It helps that I’ve always been a really grounded person and I’ve never been caught up in the fantasy:  I think it’s important to create a balance between living life, parenting and having my career..”

As she continues to explore new ways to share her music, Jody acknowledges fellow modern-day entrepreneurs such as Russell Simmons, Sean (Puff Daddy) Combs and Jay-Z (“for their work as an artists, label executives, clothing ventures marketing savv and philantrophy”) “These guys make me want to grow Avitone into a diverse empire!”

Entrepreneur, label owner, recording artist, producer, songwriter and performer,  Jody Watley celebrates decades in the world of entertainment carving her own destiny, very much her own woman, truly an inspiration for artists of today and beyond.

2009 Interview with David Nathan

(c) 2009, 2022, David Nathan, All Rights Reserved